Paul Horrell05 December 2013

Chevrolet is dead (in Europe)

GM’s budget arm leaves Britain, but the Corvette remains. Good riddance? Paul Horrell reports

Chevrolet - the Korean arm of GM that makes the Cruze, Spark, Aveo and Trax - is retiring hurt from Europe. You won't be able to buy those vehicles after 2015.

You'll still be able to get the headline American metal like the Corvette and Camaro. And Cadillac is preparing for yet another try over here too. Though none of these American cars are confirmed for RHD, so it'll be a very limited incursion into Britain.

Chevy's withdrawal seems sensible to us. It's a recognition that GM's previous strategy was illusory. GM's bosses thought that those hapless Chevys could honestly compete against Fords. And they figured that if Chevy played Ford, then Vauxhall and Opel could move on up and have a pop at VW-Audi.

But the Chevys are nowhere near up to it. They lack stuff that Ford buyers take for granted, like downsized turbo petrol engines, modern diesels, twin-clutch transmissions, decent connectivity, multi-link rear suspensions and more. Vauxhall has all of those, so Vauxhall is fit to compete in the mainstream.

Another problem is the dissonance of the Chevrolet name. People here associate Chevrolet with American muscle and big trucks, not compact front-drive hatchbacks. GM global bosses liked to call Chevrolet the 'global mainstream brand', but that was a Detroit perspective. Over here no one thought of Chevy as mainstream, so they didn't look to their Chevy dealer when they wanted a mainstream car.

When Chevy first arrived in Europe, after GM took over Daewoo, the cars were cheap. Now they're not. They're versions of Vauxhalls with technical content removed, but the price difference isn't enough to make them viable. And fellow Korean brands Kia and Hyundai have improved far faster.

Why were GM bosses unable to understand what was possible in Europe for Chevy? Maybe it came from the fact that in the US Chevy does compete satisfactorily against Ford - Aveo (called Sonic there) against Fiesta, Cruze against Focus.

But an American-sold Focus doesn't get the sophisticated options the British version does. And maybe the sheer weight of the Chevy nameplate's history helps it in the USA. Something's very different anyway: as in many spheres of life what makes sense in America simply doesn't over here.

So now GM can concentrate on giving Vauxhall and Opel all they need to take the fight to the main European and Japanese badges, not to mention Hyundai and Kia. Rather than fancifully pretending they're premium.

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